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by Marco M. Pardi

Untold Stories of Tonio

Everything was different in this strange place, the buildings, the smells, the people, the language, even the rare trees strangely out of place in this world of concrete. Three and a half year old Tonio looked at New York City, still wondering where Rosa was, still unsure of the two women and an older boy he was with. Unwelcome from birth, he had been largely raised by a live-in governess, Rosa, and felt little connection to these people. To him, Rosa was his mother.

But life went on, including yet another move to the downtown center of a large Mid-Western city on the shores of Lake Erie. Then, at five, he was dropped into a boarding military school 140 miles away by train. Although ensconced in 300 acres of largely forest, the land and everything about it seemed undeniably alien. He was not home. Being “the youngest and the smallest” of the boys brought nothing but trouble. His “foreign” name and manner of speaking enhanced his outsider status, his “otherness”, and encouraged other boys to bully him and call him names. Although he never once questioned the origins of his skills, he soon and frequently demonstrated natural fighting ability, with nearly fatal effect at least once.

Circumstances intervened again and his family connections within the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency, combined with their economic and political clout, hastened his Naturalization as a U.S. Citizen, enabling his family to safely take him back to Italy only a few years later, this time to their property in Firenze.

On arrival Tonio’s soul awakened with the deepest and most silent joy. The past few years had been a bad dream. He was home. Everything was right. The sky, the buildings, the people, the smells, the sounds, all of it, even the language of the birds. He felt he would never leave again.

Rosa was somewhere in Roma, the city of his birth, but Elvira and her husband “Bepino”, cook and handyman respectively, quickly became his family along with a woman who spent every day tutoring him and his older brother in preparation for their entry into school. And, of course, his dearest friend and confidant, Petra, a tortoise who had appeared on the property and came instantly to Tonio.

The days and nights, weeks and months, were pure joy. Every experience was more one of remembering than of learning. But then it happened. Tonio’s maternal grandfather, with whom the family was living, was in Roma on business when, one evening, Tonio suddenly became inexplicably tired and went early to bed. His mother awakened him with the news his grandfather had died. But Tonio knew.

Several weeks later the family moved back to the United States, that alien territory. At a new primary school Tonio followed his mother’s urging and told the other kids he was born in Rome, Italy. Soon, the boys started calling him WOP and Dago, neither of which he understood. And in a short time they added Liar, which Tonio could not figure out. Only much later did he find out that his older brother had been telling the other kids they were born in Cleveland.

But this didn’t matter since, at every recess, Tonio went straight to the farthest edge of the playground and sat alone, often gazing at the Moon in the mornings. He hoped to go there someday. Some foolish boys came by and picked fights with him. For a while it seemed an unusual number of boys were falling on their faces or running into things during recess. Foolish boys. Tonio got a bloody nose just once. When he helped a boy to his feet the boy sucker punched him. Lesson learned. When you knock down an opponent, make sure he stays down. No faculty took notice of him since, in those years, no one thought children could experience severe depression.

At home Tonio read voraciously. One book was about an Indian (Native American) boy who built a canoe and paddled through the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Atlantic. Tonio began collecting pieces of lumber and nailing them together into what he thought of as a raft. A raft which would carry him home to Italy. He had no idea how he would get the raft to Lake Erie, but that didn’t stop him. And no one noticed anyway.

Years later, in the military, Tonio found himself stationed in North Africa. He still dreamed of going to Italy, but he had developed a deep emotional relationship with the attack dog he handled in his combat security job. He would not leave that dog to pine and wonder in his miserable concrete kennel while he enjoyed himself on leave elsewhere.

After 15 months of nightly handling the dog through hellish weather, injuries, and situations he was notified that he was needed for an off-the-books job in West Germany, his dog to accompany him to the German Hundeschule as his “cover story”. A C-130 flight across the Med is faster than a raft but Tonio hadn’t thought about that. When they arrived in Germany and the rear ramp was opened his dog, secured in a large metal kennel, became active. The air, the scents, the sights, everything was a startling change from the Saharan hellscape. But his dog knew. He had been born and weaned here.

Tonio sat with his dog in the back of a large military truck as they drove for hours to the location of the hundeschule. Once there he brought the dog to his kennel, a marvelous wooden structure enclosed against the weather and including a large, raised wooden bench for sleeping, unlike the chain link cage with concrete floor in Africa.

Tonio was struck dumb by his dog’s reaction. In all those months he had never once seen a tail wag or an expression of joy from his dog. Yet, the dog leaped around the kennel, jumping up to lick his face and squealing with happiness. He was home, and he knew it. Six miserable years in the desert were just a bad dream.

A German kennel master standing nearby wrote him up for “failure to have his dog under control.” Tonio didn’t know how to say, “Fuck You” in German, but gave it his best thought. Knowing his dog would be well fed and housed Tonio settled in to get briefed and ready to begin the mission, for which he had been allocated six weeks.

One of a very few military personnel with the required skills and experience, Tonio accomplished the “executive actions” in three weeks, not six. Thus, he had to immediately collect his dog, board a military truck for a suitable air base, and quickly leave the country. Back to Africa.

As the C-130 ramp came open and the furnace like blast of desert air rushed in his dog was quiet in his travel kennel. And he was quiet as they rode in the back of the truck to the K-9 kennels. Tonio walked him into the chain link and concrete kennel and returned to his barracks.

Over the next few nights, out on solitary patrols far from the base, Tonio noticed his dog was subdued. Oh, the dog was purely professional, listening to the sounds only someone who knows the desert would notice, smelling air currents, stopping to look more deeply into the darkness before moving on. But his responsiveness was percetibly slower, as if he had lost interest. Tonio wondered about this, and he tried to get the dog to tell him.

And then, with an impact greater than any of the firearms Tonio carried, it hit him. The dog WAS telling him. Looking into the dog’s eyes Tonio saw in them the young boy who had been taken from his home, from the woman he thought was his mother, and brought to an alien world only to be brought back to his home and have it snatched away from him again. He saw the years of self exile to the only place he could go: deep within himself. And in that moment Tonio doubled over and sobbed. He fell to the sand and rocked, only dimly aware the dog had rushed to him and was whining and licking the flood of tears from his face. The dog to whom he had brought so much pain was helping him to struggle through his own. The dog whose one mission in life was to detect and destroy human life was covering him with unconditional love. A barely new Moon was watching, perhaps waiting a few nights.

From that night on Tonio devoted every possible moment to understanding what his dog needed and wanted, what would make him happy. Risking Article 15, even court-martial, he used his cold weather desert gear to smuggle the best food he could afford for the dog. His squad leader, a hard bitten former paratrooper who was fully aware of the miserable rations for the dogs, turned a blind eye. A dog who could crush Tonio’s hand with a single bite sat patiently as Tonio hand fed him. And they talked. Night after night they talked. And in that time Tonio laid out a sketchy plan for his future. Regardless of career or circumstances, he would devote every spare dollar and every other form of support to every Non-Human Animal cause, be it Shelter, Sanctuary, Rescue Group, or yet unknown that he could find. And he would not stain these gifts by declaring them on taxes.

Finally Tonio received the notice he knew was coming; he was being transferred back to the United States despite his request to go to Viet Nam. Since the Air Force would not assign an airman to two consecutive Conflict Zones, Tonio would have to serve out a stretch before returning to combat.

Although they had “talked” about this eventuality earlier, Tonio and his dog sat in the kennel training yard as he explained that the day had come. An airplane would take him through several stops back to the United States, probably never to return. Tonio knew his dog would never go home again. There would be no C-130, nor even a raft. One way or another he would be killed and placed in a shallow, sandy grave in the K-9 cemetery in front of the K-9 Unit. And Tonio would dream the rest of his life of ways to return, exhume the dog’s remains, and bring them for burial in Germany.

Dreams usually fade. True love never dies.

Stress and Aging


By Br. Mark Dohle

When I was young, even up to my middle sixties, stress seemed to focus me, and allow me to do what I needed to do without fuss, though it did cost me a lot of energy to swim in stressful situations. Many of the situations were interior, but there were also demanding times from the external world as well. We all see this aspect of reality within ourselves I am sure, and many experience this deeper than others.

It probably has to do with my aging body, as well as with my brain/mind connection. I think that is why I am so much more in touch with anxiety. When younger I had no idea that I could even get really anxious, since I always seemed to move towards what was not pleasant, and needed assertiveness. Now stress can scatter me, and bring on a deep disquiet that I can feel in my chest area. It has the feeling of a rolled-up ball of barbwire. It forces me to slow down, and it has helped me in my prayer life. I have learned that much of my inner anger flows from this apprehension. It is a fear that things will fall apart. Rooted in my past experiences when very young. I am thankful for this, for perhaps we all need a goad in our lives to push us forward. Sloth is something that can numb me, but when in the midst of that I feel more dead than alive. 

While anxiety is for me the most unpleasant of inner experiences, I am still thankful that I am more in touch with it. Yet, I know that all that I know about myself is just the tip of a very large iceberg. So as I age I am more at peace with not knowing or understanding, but just try to get through the day without causing damage to others. I do not always succeed, but grace lifts me up and I continue.

I can see grace at work as I age. It leads me deeper into truth, some of these truths are not pleasant at all. Our inner worlds can be beautiful, but also harsh, and even at times have a nightmarish quality to them. There is a reason I believe that people love the horror genre in movies, as well as novels. It gives us a safe place to observe what we have within us. 

When on a path that seeks God, He will bring truth to us. It can be a painful time, but also one that is very fruitful. We seem to grow when we struggle, and yes suffer. I wish it was different, but we have to work within the system given to us.

For me ‘Trust’ is the key. When I feel shaky within, as I get older, I find that it is being in the presence of God that brings peace, and even integration. Again, I do not know how it works, but Trust again is the switch that allows this to happen. Trust in God, can be one of the freest actions we can make. It comes from deep within, far below the agitation, and pain that is often our lot.

Drugs and addictions of all sorts only slow this process down, but eventually, it must all be faced. Prayer and a loving relationship with God can allow us to do that. Psalm 91, as well as Psalms 23, and 139 can be helpful in times of inner turmoil. A slow prayer reading of these prayers can focus us and deepen our rootedness in Christ Jesus. 

Our humanity is not to be feared. Allowing ourselves to sink would be a very serious and at times fatal mistake. Our lives are serious business. Our culture wants us to ignore that, and just have a good time and be entertained. Being jaded can be its own hell. Facing our inner struggles, chaos, and pain, leads to inner joy and peace, though a trek through the desert can be a long one. No matter what we choose, the trek may be very long indeed.-Br.MD

Old Age, Faith, and the Last Things

By Br. Mark Dohle

“Oh, when evening falls may they think of coming to My embrace, their hearts overflowing with gratitude, asking Me to come again with new blessings. And I will come again. And in this way, we shall approach the end of life and the last of My blessings. “For this last blessing, My child, give Me your tender thanks now.”

Bossis, Gabrielle. He and I (Kindle Locations 4208-4211). Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition.

I have come to see each day as a metaphor for a full lifetime. In the morning, when the day is fresh, we can begin with hope and joy. Even when that is missing, it is still a beginning that we partake in. As the day progresses things can wear down, we get tired, even cranky, and yes fatigue sets in. Yet we must do what needs to be done. Not keeping going, can only increase our inner weariness. Then evening, and hopefully rest.

Our lives are like that I believe. Old age is not easy, nor always pleasant, but we arrive there in the evening of our lives. Or as a friend told me in a humorous tone, now that I am 73, I am in the midwinter of my life.

Each stage of life has its challenges, as well as gifts that are bestowed on us. In old age, I believe we are called to do one very important thing. To learn to let go of what we took for granted in our younger years. Perhaps what we took for granted even yesterday. Another calling is to be patient with physical pain, understanding that after we do what we can, we will still have some. I know of very few older people who do not have some form of chronic pain, but are manageable. I have known some who have pain that is severe and has to be lived with because nothing can be done for it. That can be tragic. Yet, they do deal with it. With some, you do not even know they are in pain if they do not tell you.

Hopefully, for those who believe that we have an immortal aspect of our existence, that is made in the image and likeness of God, we will spend more time deepening our love and trust in God. Yes, old age is a very important part of our lives, perhaps the most important, though all stages are ‘most important’ when lived through. 

Death can be a gift. It makes us understand that we have little time on this planet. I do believe that the old truly understand this. Once old age is arrived at, it can be experienced with a certain sense of ‘surprise’. What! I am old already, how did that happen! It happens to us all, who are lucky enough to arrive there.

Suffering, struggle, pain, fear, and the many others bumps in life that must be dealt with, can seem overwhelming, and some are of course. However, all we need to do, which is almost never easy, is just to get through the day, do the best we can, and at the end of the day, hopefully, be a little more loving than when we started. If not, well there is always the next moment, minute, day, or week, to begin again. 

Those who do make God, and their inner life with God central to their lives, discover an intimacy that would seem impossible when young. It is something that has to be experienced, not taught, or really preached about. This can give tremendous peace, as well as strengthen one for the journey.

One aspect of aging that can also be healing, is that in prayer we begin to see that my ‘me’, is every ‘me’, and connected intimately with the eternal “Me’

Faith is not always easy, life can get dark, and seem absurd, yet to believe, and trust, is a choice, just as unbelief is. Once we actually understand that, we can proceed. Also, this can make us understand those better who make a choice other than the one we made.-Br.MD

My “me” is God nor do I recognize any other “me” except my God himself.-Catherine of Genoa

Freedom Convoy


We are pleased to introduce a Canadian guest wiriter, Ray Rivers.  Ray has been a journalist for over eight years, writing mostly for the Burlington Gazette in Ontario. He has also written a book, two music CDs and three stage plays.  An economist (MA) by training, his career spanned twenty-six years with the Canadian government in a number of departments, including Environment.  Ray was also a university lecturer in public administration, economics and sustainable development at four universities including one in New Zealand, and has several professional publications.  He worked as a private consultant to both government and industry and CEO for the Ontario chapter of the Organic Crop Improvement Association and Clean Air Canada (emissions trading organization).  Ray is a former candidate for provincial office and was VP of Policy for the Ontario Liberal party for around seven years.


Let Them Truckers Roll – A Postscript

The report of the Commission of Inquiry into last year’s imposition of Canada’s Emergencies Act was tabled this past Thursday.   As most people expected Justin Trudeau was vindicated for invoking the legislation.  His government had met the high bar required to trigger the Act.

Moreover as the Commissioner noted…”I determined that the measures taken by the federal government were, for the most part, appropriate and effective, and contributed to bringing a return to order without loss of life or serious injury to people or property.”  

Most Canadians supported the government action so they will be relieved that this chapter is now all over and relegated to history.  That is except for the 122 people who had a total of 393 charges laid against them for assault and other criminal offences. And then there are those stuck with the clean-up bill. Still, most of the occupiers escaped without so much as a parking ticket.  Most of them who had been blocking traffic and jeopardizing public safety with their illegal gas cans and barbecues, just went home. 

The Conservative ‘PM in-waiting’, Pierre Poilievre blamed the occupation in Ottawa on Justin Trudeau.  He claimed that Trudeau had inflamed the occupiers by referring to them as a ‘fringe’ group.   Trudeau sort of apologized for his undiplomatic use of language, though this was indeed a fringe group.  If anything it was Poilievre himself who kept the flames of occupation burning by encouraging the occupiers, taking selfies and defending the occupation. 

This was never a peaceful protest, unless blocking streets, terrorizing neighbourhoods, polluting the air with diesel exhaust, blaring their horns, and urinating on people’s lawns and war monuments could be considered peaceful.  It was an unruly mob hoping to overthrow a sitting government.  It was an insurrection in the making, which failed from lack of leadership and purpose, despite the assistance of some skilled ex-military and police sympathizers.

This was never about vaccine mandates for truckers at border crossings.  Even if Canada had dropped its mandate the truckers would have faced the same requirement by the Americans.  This was an angry mob taking out their personal frustration with two years of COVID, and for some their unfulfilled dreams of more oil pipelines, on the federal government.  

It was the kind of vendetta one might expect of spoilt children being denied their regular playtime.  Though they lacked a unified leadership, several occupiers presented themselves as spokespeople.  And while the leadership may have included some hard core right-wingers, there were, no doubt, others just along for the ride and the excitement of it all.

It is unlikely that any of these folks supported the Liberals, judging from the number of elegant ‘Fuck Trudeau’ signs stuck on the side of so many trucks.  Clearly these occupiers supported the other team, the other tribe.  And their love was reciprocated when Tory House leader Candice Bergen advocated against asking them to leave.  Make no mistake, this was a partisan mob with a partisan mission.

The Emergencies Act might not have had to be used, the Inquiry concluded, had Ontario’s Premier done his job.   While the truckers were building their barricades opposite the nation’s parliament building, Doug Ford was off snowmobiling somewhere hundreds of kilometres away.  It was as if he was in denial, refusing to attend the meetings in Ottawa and even later refusing to testify at the Inquiry. 

In Ontario, municipalities are children of the province,  Ford had no problem arbitrarily overriding his municipalities whenever he wanted to.  He trashed and slashed the size of Toronto’s elected council only days before an election.  He barred municipalities from using ranked balloting; banned them adding development charges to new development, and so on.  

But when it came to the security of the people of Ottawa, his government hardly raised a finger, leaving the dysfunctional Ottawa police service to fail all on their own, and leaving the job of restoring civil order to the federal government.  The Emergencies Act should never have had to be invoked but for inaction by the province.

Was Ford just being partisan, under pressure from his federal party cousins to let the occupation run its course?  According to interim Tory leader Bergen that would put the issue on the PM’s plate – and possibly embarrass him as an impotent figure head if he did nothing.  Ford did, to his credit, eventually come out to support the federal government and the Emergencies Act.  But the question is why, after he had declared a provincial emergency, he didn’t use his powers to get the OPP tactical squad to end the blockade and occupation?  

This occupation in Ottawa had clearly been inspired by the insurrection in Washington only a few months earlier.  And it had been partially funded by some of the same folks involved in that mischief.  While the Ottawa mob didn’t actually get into the Parliament buildings, they had come with a manifesto to overthrow the government and set up one under their control.  

The parallels to what happened south of the border are too obvious to ignore.  It’s a sad comment on our democracy when groups of people who can’t win at the ballot box choose instead the path of violence and terrorism.  Partisan politics should never get in the way of overriding respect for our democratic values.  

This occupation may have eventually concluded on its own and everyone gone home with just their mess left behind them.  Or it may have ended up much worse with scenes like we saw at the US Capitol.  We should all take a moment to consider how close we really came.

Emergency Act Inquiry –

Gazette Article on Ottawa Occupation –

Candice Bergen Against Asking Occupiers to Leave –



by Marco M. Pardi

and Br. Mark Dohle

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Anon.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

At some point in my life I was exposed to pinball machines, those garish, noisy devices with a spring loaded trigger which send a steel ball caroming around a tilted board with various protruding cogs until it finally drops with a thunk into a hole at the bottom. I noticed that every such game board was almost equally topped with lighted illustrations of buxom beauties in supposedly provocative poses and formed a lasting opinion of who were the intended paying customers. I did not play. But, I did watch others, some quite ardent in their drive for high scores.

But wait! Watching people play, I noticed that what I had thought were obstacles (the protruding cogs) were actually little devices that awarded points when they were touched by the ball. If the ball simply dropped down the canyon of clear board without touching them before dropping into the hole there would be no points awarded. So a simple shift in my perspective put the game in a new light. But some of these encounters were deceptive; they hastened the ball toward the hole at the bottom of the board.

Nevertheless, I always take the opportunity to see things as metaphors for our lives. In this case, a barely disguised Freudian plunger hurls us into a conglomeration we charitably call a society. We are born. We figuratively bang into and bump people heedlessly through the brief spasm we call Life. While keeping score of what we’ve gained, we often ignore the lessons gained by what we perceive as loss.

But what of those whom we encounter, and those whom we miss entirely? Do we give a thought to what they’ve gained, or lost? Do we think of how their lives were made different by the encounter, or would have been different had we not done so? I

do find that giving much thought to these directions makes me uncomfortable in some ways; I feel vain, too self important. When someone refers to my college faculty career and calls me a teacher I inwardly recoil. To me, teacher sounds too elitist; I know something and you don’t so I will teach you. I prefer to feel I have put new information before someone and facilitated the process by which they discover its meaning. For me, the greatest reward in that career was not the money (that’s surprisingly abysmal), it was seeing the excitement of discovery in students’ faces. Whether they reached the same judgment as me was unimportant; they reached a judgment. Especially when assigning written papers I tried to make clear to students that I’m not here to teach you what to think, I’m here to help you develop how to think. What you think is your business; how you think is my business.

Of course, doing that successfully requires talking with people, not talking to people. One person I bumped into over twenty five years ago and have gained many points from through our numerous interactions since is the Cistercian monk Mark Dohle. As must be plain, his foundational premise is different from mine but his developments and applications of thought have values which must surely add to the wealth of our persnal developments, no matter the trajectory of our lives.

Their Roots in Trauma

by Br. Mark Dohle

Our interior lives are deeper than most understand. For there lurk angels, demons,and gods, not to mention passions, deep emotions, and overwhelming feelings of many different sorts. Their roots are in trauma. Perhaps that is why this world can seem more like a mental hospital than an actual world with rational, intelligent beings.

These inner realities can keep us locked away from one another. We use politics and religion more than anything else to do that. I am certainly not immune to the siren songs of ‘personal infallibility’.

Jesus tells us to love one another because in my mind it is the only way to bridge our own inner hell to others, and become free to see, embrace, and understand those around us. For we are truly mysteries to one another, as well as to ourselves. Yes, when we learn to seek others, we understand that they also mirror back to us important insights about ourselves. They do not become our enemies but friends.

Prayer connects us to the “Heart Of God”, and opens us up to feel for others, to have empathy, and to seek the beauty in those around us. As difficult as that can be, in grace healing comes, and prayer opens up our hearts to grace.

The human soul must be fed, and that happens through prayer, the reading of books, and Scriptures that shower light on our need for help from above, in that is our salvation.

To not pray can close us off from others leaving us only with ourselves, and our own ideas often against most others. We align with like-minded people and block out all else. We cannot see our own humanity in those who are ‘other’.

Perhaps that is what causes all of the insanity that fills human history: we do not pray from the heart.-Br.MD

Where Does Faith in God Lead?

By Br. Mark Dohle

Religion is always love, nothing but love.’ Haven’t I explained to you that you will be judged according to the measure of your love—on that alone?

Bossis, Gabrielle. He and I (Kindle Locations 4201-4203). Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition.


Truth, and Love, can’t be separated. However truth said without love is not about love at all, but more about control, or, the ‘Will to Power’.

Both Truth, and Love have to be embraced, it cannot be forced. The people who have influenced me the most are those who do not seek to manipulate or control me.

To force one’s love on someone, or to try to force another to see things the way I do, is in fact an act of evil. It does not mean that we do not speak the truth, but when we do, to keep the ‘Golden Rule’ in mind. How do I want to be treated? Think about it, pray about it, and then seek to be open to others, about your thoughts and beliefs.

To stereotype another can be another evil since we strip away the humanity of someone and force them into a specific mold, which probably does not exist anyway. In religion/politics, the most decisive and inflammatory subjects, we tend to stereotype more than any other those who disagree with us. We are seeing the

destructive fruit at this point in time in our history more than ever before. This is because of the many forms of communication, several offering anonymity, that are now easily available.

On line there are more communities that exist that only allow information that they already agree with. Yet, the more we talk at each other, the less that is said or listened to.

Is it any wonder that so many are lonely, and isolated in a world filled with instant access to news, and discussion? The grace of love allows us to build bridges so that we can speak to others of a different mindset without being offensive to each other.

Christian friend, and all friends, let us pray for all, and seek to see all that we come in contact with as a beloved child of God. We are not called to judge, but to speak truth, and to listen to others as we would like to be listened to. So many feel discounted, this leads to rage.-Br.MD

As Mark and I have made clear in our frank discussions, we do not share the same foundation. But we do share our value of how we communicate with others.

And speaking of that, I will take this opportunity to inform you of a stunning encounter I had recently. I walk my dog, or more likely get dragged, about the neighborhood early every morning. Often we encounter and exchange greetings with an elderly African-American man wearing a ball cap with various writing and military insignia on it. And this time I was close enough to ask him what was on his cap. He came closer and showed me. To say I was stunned almost silent would likely be the

understatement of 2023. He seemed pleased at my reaction, and I sincerely hope to sit down with him soon and interview him for a post I will provide for you.

As always, I am deeply honored by and grateful for the comments people are kind in offering on this site. Since this site is read in many countries around the world I will say I have no doubts that the world, as we know the better parts of it today, is what it is due to the bravery and fortitude of the man I had often passed but only recently met on my neighborhood street in the past few days. In that light I would hope people respond.

An ancient Indian proverb advises us: Life is a bridge. Cross over it but build no house upon it.

Dealing With “Situations”

Dealing With “Situations”

by Br. Mark Dohle

Br. Mark is a lifelong Cistercian (Trappist) monk at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. He has recently been diagnosed with Covid 19. Although in isolation, he is greatly concerned about his fellow monks, many of whom are elderly. I heard from him as recently as this morning and he is having a tough time with Covid. MMP

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Dealing with ‘situations’

I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

Pope John Paul II

I guess you can say, that we all have times in our lives when the above quote may not seem helpful. Sickness, loss of a loved one, or a job, health issues, and of course, becoming old, bring with it its own list of problems, issues, and situations that have to be faced.

Bromides, and just about any saying no matter how wise, can actually cause some harm to people. However, the content can be true, and even helpful. The gist of the matter is that each of us has to decide, choose, listen, and, then put into practice what is said. Not always an easy thing to work through.

In my own life, there are times when I have chosen to ‘sink’ so to speak. To make matters worse by entering into a state of ennui, or into a desperate desire to escape an unescapable situation. Unless someone dies young and quickly, there will be more than one situation in our lives when we will be brought to a place of choice, but may not choose at all. Chaos can be given into. In some ways, it is easier than choosing ‘life’ over the netherworld.

Suffering of all kinds can throw us back upon ourselves, blocking everything else out. When in deep suffering we often can’t center ourselves. The tendency is to make the world responsible, causing rage, or blame God, making the situation worse. It is an outward movement away from prayer, there is nothing to stand upon that is lasting. It can cause deep restlessness even when fatigue is present. We want to be anywhere but here at this time.

For most of us, if the situation is not terminal, we do get through it, adapt, and life goes on. If during such situations we become more pointed in what we want to do, something else can happen.

 Many find God when in the depth of suffering. It is then that prayer and the relationship with God become real and not just something we may do from time to time. The term “Christ with Us” for Christians, becomes something real and we learn to unite our sufferings with His for the salvation of others. For in prayer, there is a deep connection with our fellow man.

Sickness of all kinds is common. Today Covid seems to be everywhere, so it is not hard to meet people who have gone through it more than once. For the most part, the majority seem to get through it without much fuss. For others, it can be very painful, and then there are those who die. No one knows why some get ill, and die, and others, even with Covid, prosper. There always seem to be more questions than actual answers to our important concerns.

By the grace of God, I was able to more or less stay focused so as not to get dragged down. I have come to understand my age, my fragility, on a new level, and it makes me more aware of how important life is, and how each moment is a time of loving choice, to choose to say yes even in the midst of feeling alone, and isolated from God. I do not believe such feelings, or emotions, they pass, as do all things. God’s love never passes, for God is with us.-Br.MD



by Marco M. Pardi

“We have art in order not to die of reality.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” Ernest Hemingway

Religion is believing in other people’s experience… Spirituality is experiencing your own.” Anon.

All comments are welcome and will receive the fish eye, I mean, a reply. All previous posts are open for comment; no one will track you, hunt you down, fiddle with your meds, or otherwise bother you. And, you are welcome to forward disagreeable materials you find to anyone you choose.

No, this is not a narrative of a daring-do escape; it is an exploration of how we – and that includes you – cope. This is particularly relevant for residents of the Untied States, but it can reasonably be argued that when the Untied States catches a cold the rest of the world catches………something. But, hey, I said reasonably argued. When’s the last time you heard that phrase?

As a young boy I looked at quiet people and wondered what was going on in their minds. I didn’t want to “read” their minds, that was too factual. And probably not interesting. No, I wondered if they were in the moment, or somewhere else. Were they hearing music, replaying old arguments, regretting something past, wishing they were somewhere else or in some other time? I had no understanding of psychology, rather I was developing a sense of philosophy, particularly of mysticism. How people answer the question, WTF am I doing here, and if they ask it at all.

In primary school the nuns, especially Nun the Wiser, chastised us for “daydreaming” in class. I found this troubling inasmuch as these women had dedicated their lives to someone they had never met, or had even seen in a photograph. And, they spoke constantly of mortal life as short, Earth as only a place of hard learning and trial, and a non-corporeal life to come in a “far better place.” That better place stuff must have taken hold as so many people carelessly say that to surviving families at funerals; “He’s in a far better place now.” A few years ago I knew a suddenly widowed woman who required in-patient care after someone said that to her at her husband’s funeral; as if being away from his wife and his wonderful, loving, young daughters put him in a “better place”. That has got to be one of the most horrible things one can say at a funeral.

Still, many of us – probably most – have our Anywhere but here moments. And that poses the question: Where do people go when they are mentally not here? And, when they go, do they not take themselves with them? Through years of knowing people with various problems, including substance abuse, I learned that many of these people thought moving somewhere else would solve the problem. But then someone spoke up and asserted that you take yourself with you, and until you deal with yourself you will not escape the problem. Seems obvious.

It also seems we are surrounded by innumerable suggestions, advertisements, and, frankly, come-ons for us to “pay your money and take your choice”. Sometimes when I think of the myriad escapes on offer day and night I think back to the graduate course in Criminology I took. During the course I took the opportunity to interview a variety of prisoners, from those sentenced to a few days in jail to those who spent their lives in prison. The “lifers” told me the most dreaded punishment was solitary confinement. No input of any kind, not even sounds from the rest of the prison. Cold sandwiches pushed through a slot in the solid door without so much as a glimpse of a hand. All alone. Or were they. No, in fact they were locked in with themselves.

The lifers laughed as they told me of the young punks who wanted to experience solitary, see how it was, and maybe set some new record for endurance. Invariably they broke down crying and screaming to be let back into the general population, all much sooner than they thought. I guess being with yourself is, for some people, much scarier than I thought. At least for some people.

Writing this reminded me of a funny occurrence at Harvard. The main library had an air circulation system which randomly clattered and clunked, not loudly, just enough to be heard. When the new central air system came on line it was totally silent. Not a sound. Ever. Within days students complained that they could not concentrate on their studies. It seemed their minds were listening and waiting for those familiar sounds.

It was the realization of the terror of being with one’s self which turned me against capital punishment – in most cases. I say most cases because I want to reserve the right – within the law – to personally mete out such punishment where and how I see fit. But I learned many decades ago that when you kill someone you can’t hurt them anymore. As Socrates said in answer to why he chose suicide over exile, (I paraphrase) If there is nothing after death then there won’t be a me to experience it. But if there is a life after death I will go on living as before. So, under option One you can empty your magazine in someone’s face and it makes no difference, except to how they look. Under option Two, maybe they went to a “better place”. Solitary confinement seems much more promising if your intent is to punish.

Some years ago I wrote a piece on Korsakov’s Psychosis, commonly known as Korsakov’s Syndrome or “wet brain”. You can find it in the archives if interested. When I hear apprentice intellectuals intone that we should “live in the now” I think back to those in-patients I had seen with Korsakov’s and how they lived in the now. The eternal now. Through alcoholism or TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury they were completely unable to form and experience memories, short or long term. Each moment was a moment of awakening from a dreamless sleep. Oh, they were not plagued by troublesome memories, but nor did they have any idea of who they were. Information given to them now was gone a moment later. Unlike prisoners in sound proofed solitary, they could not guess the passage of time by the appearance of food trays in their door slots. Thinking of this made me wary of the joyous pronouncements of “eternity”. Since by definition eternity is timeless – in every dimension and direction – is this “better place” a state of Korsakov’s Psychosis? How could someone have a sense of eternity if there is no way to measure time? No way to say, Geez, this forever thing is great! And, come on, affective states become normal. Therefore “great” loses it potency. It’s SSDD, same shit different day, without the ability to measure day.

Many traditions around the world, including early Christianity, believe in reincarnation. I’m okay with it for other people, but not for me. No way I’m ever doing this gig again. But wait, might this be an escape from the mindless tedium of eternity?

Okay, if you have read this far I’m guessing you have some sense of time having passed. Speaking of which, how did we come up with this concept of time wasted? Are we on the clock? Big Ben in the Sky? Thanks for spending part of your life with me. I’ll be going now.

Conversation with a Retreatant

by Br. Mark Dohle

Conversation with a Retreatant

by Br. Mark Dohle

God doesn’t always bring you the entire truth.

He sometimes gives it to you in pieces, in order to learn.

Regardless, it is the piece that you got today

that will renew your faith for tomorrow.” ― Shannon L. Alde

Being a Retreat-Master (or Guest-Master) affords me the opportunity to meet many interesting people. We do get a wide variety of individuals who come here for retreats. Many (the majority) are Christians from many different communities. We also get those who follow other paths. Some are structured, others more free-flowing. All are welcome.

There was a man here this weekend, with whom I have spoken before in the past. We had the opportunity to talk about how his life was going. When he came here I think about four years ago, we discussed the crossroad that he was at. He was having what I would call a crisis of faith. Well after much thought he let go of his religion, and now calls himself an atheist. He joined a Unitarian-Universalists congregation. In this church, there are all kinds of people gathered under one roof. There are Christians, deists, atheists, Wiccans, and others who can’t find a church that will accept them. I do not know much about this group, but I did learn from listening to him that it can be a place of healing for many.

I do believe that when I think of other ‘groupings’ I can be very guilty of stereotyping, and in ways that are very unfair. As I listen to my newfound friend sharing about his community I found myself intrigued.

I can’t say that I am a fan of the Woke movement. From those who speak in public about Woke philosophy, it can come across as being angry, without mercy, or a sense of justice. It is about revenge. However, I knew on some level that those who speak out in public, more often than not, are extremists. So I believe that there was a level of not trusting those who speak for the movement. Most people belong to the silent majority who like me are getting more and more fed-up with the vitriol coming from both sides.

Let’s call the retreatant ‘Frank’. Frank talked about seeking to make those on the fringe of society welcome, to give them a place where they do not have to defend themselves because they are different from the average citizen. As he spoke I begin to understand that this man was not into making a political statement, or yelling at others, but simply treat others as they would like to be treated. He had a deep desire to help others and wanted them to find a loving community to interact with.

His past served him a very toxic understanding of God. So when he told me that he simply dumped that image, and became an atheist, I could understand why he had to do that. Yet I could see God at work in his life, and by the fact that he was not consumed with anger, but only wanted to help others, I could sense grace at work.

God is free to do whatever he wants when he seeks to bring healing and peace to others. Some may need to wander far afield, yet do they? Christians, well many of them, feel the need, or compulsion, to draw all kinds of lines with others, and to pronounce judgments. I find this interesting when Jesus told us not to. It is not from the Spirit of God but from our fallen nature. The desire to dominate and control, I believe is one aspect of this.

I find it interesting that Christians will seldom quote this verse:

Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

Jesus said: Love your neighbor as yourself. Well who is your neighbor? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, your neighbor is your enemy.

To love and respect others is not the same as always agreeing with them. It does mean having enough self-awareness to ‘treat others as you would want to be treated”.

I was thankful for our conversation, and hope to see him again. He seeks as we all do and sometimes along diverse paths, but the grace of God knows the heart and is leading those who truly seek to that path that in the end leads to our true home. For Jesus said: “Those who seek will find”.-BrMD



by Marco M. Pardi

Man is the only creature that knows nothing and can learn nothing without being taught. He cannot speak nor walk nor eat; in short, he can do nothing at the prompting of nature – but yell.” Pliny the Elder. 1st Century CE.

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernard Shaw

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Curious about the picture? I will try to be brief. Maybe. In the Fall of 1962 I had been handling a military working dog for about 17 months based at Wheelus Air Field, east of Tripoli, Libya. The air field was the weapons training, storage and development center for the Air Forces in Europe and Africa. The dogs were called “Sentry Dogs”, a military euphemism to not upset the locals. They were Attack Dogs. They did not sniff out explosives or drugs; their one mission was to detect and destroy all human life except that of their handler. They could not be rehabilitated and adopted at the end of their service; they were “euthanized” – killed. Becoming a handler was strictly voluntary; no one could be assigned to such duty as the 90 to 115 pound dogs were life threatening, as were the scrub desert areas and distant stations we worked, alone, only at night. The K-9 Unit was the “tip of the spear” in base defense.

The night after I first landed on base, as I was being shown to my K-9 living quarters, we passed an open room where I saw two handlers, one with a large turban-like bandage on his head and the other, shirtless, with a large bandage on his abdomen. I had a moment of joy; I was in the right place. But, it turned out “Tom” had just displayed a picture of his wife and “Bill” had said Tom’s dog was better looking. As the two seasoned handlers engaged “Bill” bit off the entire top half of “Tom’s” left ear while “Tom” bit a large chunk out of “Bill’s” abdomen. Oh, well. In the next room there was only one handler, his roommate “Pedro” being in the base hospital. Dressing for his midnight shift “Pedro” had borrowed a pair of his roommate’s fatigue pants. Unfortunately, they had not been washed, and carried the roommate’s scent. As “Pedro” entered his dog’s darkened kennel the dog all but castrated him before other handlers could dive in and subdue the dog, themselves getting bitten in the process. The dog was fine, but “Pedro” was reassigned after “recovery”.

I had been given my choice of five available dogs. The moment we made eye contact I knew my dog, as I’m sure he knew his human. Yet, the kennel master told me I would not be able to “get in on him” in less than 30 days. I sat outside his kennel and talked with him, and in three days I was able to enter his kennel, lock the door behind me, and leave with only a minor bite. He thought I had tripped him when I hadn’t. After bandages and shots at the hospital I came right back into his kennel. We talked.

Then, ready to begin our relationship, we embarked on our rotations of six nights work and three nights off, hunting “penetrators” from as far away as Egypt on the east and Algeria on the west, with a substantial number from various Libyan tribes seeking to seize control of the country. The King had fled to France and Qaddafi had yet to seize power. The takfiris (Islamic extremists) were there, but not yet out in the open.

The three off days included training sessions, mostly repetitive and difficult in the 120+ degree summers. From the first day I took issue with the harsh and cruel methods employed in training. For example, I refused to use a “spike choke chain”. I refused to slam my dog against a hurdle he wouldn’t jump. I said that using a padded sleeve to encourage a dog to bite was a sure way of getting a dog killed as it trained the dog to go after the sleeve and not the unprotected parts of the man. In fact we did abandon the use of the sleeve, putting a muzzle on the dogs and having them attack unpadded volunteer handlers (illegal by USAF standards, but lives depended on it). I did that often.

In my constant refusals of harsh methods I pointed out the unnecessary dangers to the handlers. During one session a handler using a spike choke chain tried to force his dog to sit on the hot sand. From over 10 feet away I heard the bones crunch as the dog leaped up and crushed the man’s right wrist. Permanently disabled, the Unit unnecessarily lost another handler. But my gadfly persona infuriated the training master to the point where the Unit Chief intervened and suggested we stage a “Dog Show” for the entire base, pitting my training methods against the training master’s. My dog and I were alone against the 19 other teams which qualified for the contest. So, the trophy you see in the picture above. Our 1st Place finish was many points ahead of Second Place.

You may have noticed above that I said I talked “with” my dog, not to my dog. That’s my point (Oh, he finally got to it). There is a distinct difference. But I had not come suddenly to that realization by holding eye contact for the first time with the dog I had selected. Since just before age 5 I had been exposed to dogs and horses and in each case the dog or horse was older than me (Let’s not go down the “dog years” rabbit hole). I did not know the details, but I sensed that each dog and each horse had learned from a broad scope of experiences I could only begin to understand. I sensed they had a wisdom they might share with me. I also sensed that they were capable of doing so only if I learned how to receive it. Thus, my interest in ethology.

As years passed and I experienced more interactions, read science literature especially in ethology, and thought deeply about my learning I became that 18 year old sitting outside a chain link gate talking with a dog who could rip me to shreds in seconds. I had learned: Dogs are predators. They rely on particular senses in order to detect prey, feed, and survive. Dogs hear differently from humans, doing better particularly in the high frequency range. With very low volume sounds they tie with humans in the common ranges and exceed humans in the upper ranges. Dogs process sound differently. They can discriminate pitch in a far wider range than can humans. They can categorize sounds easily, and they can discriminate differences in human languages. For example, my mother had a very shrill and haranguing voice. While vocally praising the handsomeness of one of my Siberian Huskies she reached for him. He bit her. For the Husky, all the information was in the shrill tone. And, while sitting outside my attack dog’s kennel reading a book aloud to him to accustom him to my voice I noticed he was moving around. Turned out that whenever I said, Sit, Down, Watch, or similar words he reacted as if to commands he had learned from previous handlers. But I was not using a “command voice”. My tone was simply reading aloud.

So how do dogs and horses compare to humans? Dogs have roughly 40 times the number of olfactory sensors than humans have. These sensors are of a greater variety, enabling the dog to detect a far greater range of scents than humans can. They can detect week old finger prints and scents 40 feet underground.

A dog is very near sighted, and sees colors as does a person with red – green color blindness. But their nose and ears more than compensate for vision.

Horses are prey animals. They rely on particular senses to detect predators and to inform them of the location of food and water, mates, and friends. Their sense of smell is thousands of times more powerful and sensitive than that of humans. Their forward vision is less efficient than peripheral or rearward vision; their vision is mainly to escape predators. Whether riding or simply standing with a horse, the key to their communication is the position and movement of their ears. And, as you ride they are watching you; their rearward vision is superb. So, watch their ears to determine what they are telling you.

Of course, we can’t stop without citing comparative facial expressions. People are often quick to ascribe meaning to dog expressions, and less so to horses. But, horses display 17 clearly distinct facial expressions (Yes, that horse was sneering at you. Get some riding lessons). And dogs display 16 clearly distinct facial expressions. (Caution must prevail when assuming a Husky is smiling. This mistake is also made regarding other mammals such as porpoises). And, according to research at Ohio State University, humans display 21 clearly distinct facial expressions. We aren’t really that much ahead.

Handling an Attack Dog at night provides lessons far beyond merely staying alive. I quickly learned that watching my dog’s movements was far more important than staring into the darkness. Once I understood that I realized that my dog was always communicating with me, not just to me. By watching him I could quickly determine if one or several persons were out there, in which direction they were moving (if they were) and at what pace. His silent movements, or stillness, communicated his assessment of the nature of the threat, its imminence and its severity. His life and my life were intertwined. From then on, in every other way, whether by the silent hand signals I used or by the tone of voice I employed I sought to bring him into the communication, not just subject him to it. That was the crucial difference between my way of handling the dog and the “training” employed by all the other handlers, those following instructions from the “training master”. I interacted with a person, albeit somewhat different from myself; the others handled furry mechanical objects not greatly different from the various firearms we carried. (We did like to say, A dog is the only gun that can shoot around corners.)

I’m sure every reader has at one time or another heard someone, probably a parent, say, “Don’t use that tone of voice with me.” Yes, we are each sensitive to the various tones of human speech. But it turns out that dogs, horses, and probably a lot of other non-humans are far more sensitive to tone than we are. We increasingly live in a world in which we can issue voice commands to objects and obtain an immediate result; Alexa, play Santana’s Abraxas. On Star, call Home. And when we use that tone of voice as, Satan, get your chew toy, we are speaking as if to an object, not to a remarkably sentient companion.

So that’s my message: Untrain yourself from the confines of seeing everything non-human as merely objects to be manipulated, often through force. That horse may one day kick you half way across the pasture; that dog may some day take a chunk out of you. If you treat them as objects they will tire of your abuse, and until you untrain yourself you may never know why.

But let’s hope you never have a need to earn the patch below.

What Are We Preparing For?

What Are We Preparing For?

by Br. Mark Dohle

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

Most readers know I am not a deist. However, I have known Br. Mark, a Cistercian (Trappist) monk, for over 25 years. Of the many monks and nuns I have known in my lifetime Br. Mark stands out as one of the few who fully engage in candid and respectful dialogue with people of all perspectives. I hope readers will avail themselves of this opportunity to do so. All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. (Marco M. Pardi)

What are we preparing for?

Life is hard, though also filled with beauty, and wonder, and yes there is always hope. My eyes that look out upon the world today do not see the same things as I once did when I was a callow youth. I have lost a certain innocence as I aged, and I think that is a good addition, as long as it does not lead to bitterness or cynicism.

I actually like aging, even though there is a lot that goes with that. Deepening faith and a growing trust in God help me deal with the more uncomfortable realities of aging.

My body is not the same as it was when I was a young man and strong, in good shape, with little or no pain in my body. Now of course that has all changed. My ears don’t work like they used to, but I have hearing aids. My eyes need more attention as the years go by, and I can’t take for granted that every day I will be able to read easily. Fatigue is with me much of the time, some of it deep, making it hard for me to sit for more than ten minutes without falling asleep. All I need do is have a book in my hands, and my head will droop, and I doze off. Pain is a constant companion, though not usually over a 7, which I can handle without too much trouble. So in order to deal with that I guess I have developed what St. Paul calls “patient endurance”. I think this is what allows me to enjoy life perhaps even more than when I was young.

As we age, we come to realize that we are actually dying, albeit slowly. Sometimes when I am sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, the shortness of my future in this world comes across strongly, but not depressingly, but just a matter of fact. There is both relief and some fear in that thought.

Family members die, which is a great sorrow for me. Friends as well. Yet I find more peace in my later years than when I was younger.

About two weeks ago, as I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I got a strong inspiration that simply came across with this simple statement: “Just look to me”. I was surprised at the strength of the inner movement of my soul. It is true…..all we need to do is look to the Lord. The problem with simplicity is that it can actually be very difficult. The complex can be fun and challenging, but simple (?), well again, patient endurance is needed.

I have found that the more earthy concerns, that come from my thought process, often rooted in my far past, are simply one big circle that I run around in, with no way out. It traps me in my head and becomes more and more compulsive if I do not make an effort to stop the movie from running.

Fear comes for me, as anger, and anxiety when I start to try to do it all by myself. Grace draws me out of my intense ‘subjectivity’. Which is in reality a hellish experience.

It is grace that allows us to love others, forgive, and listen. Both to God, as well as to those around us. Love is the gateway out of our hellish inner lives when we get stuck with ourselves and our personal infallibility.

Each of us is the beloved of God. Sin flows from our fear of truth, pain, and just life. When we self-medicate we only get worse. To embrace life means to accept in faith that all that is, and happens, is somehow within God’s permissive will. I can’t figure myself out, so I have no doubt that the deep mysteries of life are also beyond my reach. However, the mystery is not unknowable, but eternally knowable. So one of the gifts of aging is that we do slowly learn to understand on a deeper level, and that is one of the many gifts of aging.

Pray, trust, love, and get through one day at a time.-Br.MD



by Br. Mark Dohle

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

I have known Br. Mark, a Cistercian (Trappist) monk, for over 25 years. Of the many monks and nuns I have known in my lifetime Br. Mark stands out as one of the few who fully engage in candid and respectful dialogue with people of all perspectives. I hope readers will avail themselves of this opportunity to do so. All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. (Marco M. Pardi)


This is a conference that I am giving to give this morning to a large group of teachers. I had some very good interactions with some of the teachers I had when growing up in Panama. A few of them touched me deeply, and I feel that I would have turned out differently if not for them.

These are notes but will use them to help me keep on track. -Br.MD

—–Definition of compassion: Sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.—–

I would like to start with the experience of meeting a very compassionate teacher a few years ago. Let’s call him Stan, in order to protect his privacy.

Stan worked at a school in Chicago that dealt with teenagers who came from homes that were in turmoil, to put it mildly. He would share with me his day-to-day interaction with these students. What struck me in a very powerful way, was the deep compassion that he had for these young people.

From one day to the next there was always some sort of ‘minor’ emergency going on and some serious issues that were in some cases, life-threatening, for some of the students.

He talked about failures, suicides, and trying to get through to the parents, who themselves came from very troubling family histories.

I am not sure all the teachers who worked in this school got as involved as Stan did. He has done this for years, has not burned out, and is a man of great faith.

What I experienced in Stan was the reality of the cost that compassion calls for.

Not everyone is called to the kind of service that Stan is, yet for most of us, we to, are called in many situations to be compassionate, instead of judgmental.

Stan was not a pushover. He did challenge his students, pushed them, and because of this, many were able to overcome their environment and move on to better lives. In some instances, it even helped the family towards healing as well.

Stan is not the only teacher I have met with this kind of Christ-like compassion, I have spoken to more than a few, and in all cases, I am amazed at their stamina in dealing with so much pain.

There is a price to be paid for being deeply compassionate. Choosing to become uncaring, and aloof, also has a heavy price to endure as well. In order to protect oneself from the sufferings, and struggles of others, a wall has to be built up, and the bricks for such a wall are the use of labels or stereotypes that lessen the humanity of others or take it away altogether. I do think this is a worse fate than the upward road that compassion takes us all on.

There is always an underbelly to all true gifts. When compassion becomes compulsive it suffers from thinking that they have to save, and make right, the lives that they come in contact with. This can lead to frustration, and burnout.

The healing aspect of compassion comes from the fact that the one being helped experiences a deep acceptance from the other that allows inner freedom to grow.

When I was a student, and I was not a good one, I also experienced compassion from some of my teachers. Some teachers lost patience with me, which was understandable, but it did not change me. Others seemed to see something in me that made me pause in wonder at what on earth they were seeing in me. I sort of agreed with the teachers that showed frustration, that I was not worth much. Though that was my subjective interpretation of their anger toward me. I doubt that was their intent.

Those who saw ‘something’ in me, did change me, they planted a seed that did not bear fruit until I was 19 or 20. It was then that my mind ignited and I thirsted for knowledge. I do believe that this happened in part because of the gentle acceptance of my slowness, yet at the same time, they encouraged me. If I never experienced that compassionate, loving acceptance, I doubt that I would have believed that I was capable of really learning, or becoming anyone worthwhile.

I do believe that all teachers have students they feel a deep connection with and help them in ways that they do not understand.

We learn from those we have compassion for. We deepen our understanding, not only through our own suffering and struggles but by seeing what everyone, I believe, goes through.

What makes it possible for us to be compassionate is the very commonality of the mystery of human suffering.

When I meet young people today, I do not see the stereotypes that are bandied about as true. Being a teenager was for me one of the most difficult times of my life. I can say this, even though my family life, for the most part, while chaotic, was not abusive. Today more than ever, our young people need mature adults to listen, encourage, and yes protect them from modern currents that can be destructive.

I have no doubt that all of you educators here have memories of teachers who saw something in you that you did not see in yourselves. Because of that, the seed of acceptance has born beautiful fruit.-Br.MD

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